The Girl that Love Forgot

By: Jennie Lucas

Chapter One

She’d been warned about Stefano Cortez.

As Annabelle Wolfe climbed out of her vintage 4x4, she surveyed the sprawling white hacienda with a feeling of dread. She’d been warned constantly over the past few months: Stefano Cortez could not be trusted.

Be careful, Miss Wolfe. You won’t be able to resist him. No woman can.

Guard your heart, miss. The broken hearts he’s scattered are as infinite as stars.

I have nothing to worry about, Annabelle told herself fiercely. Stefano Cortez might be the equestrian world’s most famous playboy, but he would have no effect on her. She wouldn’t let those stupid warnings make her lose her nerve!

But her body still trembled, and she knew it wasn’t just from all the coffee she’d gulped down on the long, dusty drive from Portugal to northern Spain.

Slamming her truck door with a bang, Annabelle stretched her stiff limbs, trying to shake off her nervous fear. It didn’t work. Warnings about Stefano Cortez’s charm had been repeated too often lately, repeated everywhere she’d visited for her photojournalism series on Europe’s top-ten horse ranches for Equestrian magazine.

Stefano Cortez’s ranch, Santo Castillo, was the final one of her assignment. He sold the most expensive, exclusive horses in the world, and even then, only to customers he deemed worthy. Wealthy buyers fell over themselves to get the reclusive ranch owner’s approval. But that was nothing compared to what women did for his attention.

The world’s number-one stud farm, the current joke went, is owned by the world’s number-one stud.

Annabelle rolled her tight shoulders. If Stefano Cortez was even a fraction of the man he was reputed to be, he would definitely try to lure her into bed. Most men usually did, unfortunately. It was a long-standing joke to all her colleagues and assistants.

But Stefano Cortez took seduction to a whole new level. According to rumor, no woman had ever turned Cortez down. Ever. And what if the rumors were true? What if by some horrible chance Annabelle fell into his bed like all the rest?

No way, she told herself, biting down on her lip. Annabelle didn’t have a passionate bone in her body. She was cold and proud and rude—didn’t men always say so after she refused their advances? At thirty-three, she was a confirmed spinster, immune to any playboy’s charm. After everything she’d been through, she’d never let any man close to her.

She would be on her guard with Stefano Cortez, and if he tried any smooth moves on her, she’d laugh in his face.

Wouldn’t she …?

Looking around her, Annabelle took a deep breath. So where was he? Where was the famous playboy who would apparently try to drag her into his bed the moment he saw her?

She saw half-wild horses racing across wide gold-colored fields, beneath a blue sky that stretched forever. She heard the burble of a nearby stream and birdsong rising from the forested hills. June in northern Spain. It was so beautiful here that she turned to reach through the truck’s open window for her camera bag on the seat.

A man’s deep voice spoke behind her.

“So you have arrived at last.”

Annabelle froze. Slinging her bag on her shoulder, she braced herself and slowly turned around.

And nearly gasped.

Stefano Cortez stood before her, his eyes dark and luminous as fire beneath the Spanish sun. At five-ten, Annabelle was far from petite, but she had to tilt her head back to look into his gorgeously chiseled face.

He was even more devastating in person than in photographs. At thirty-five, he was breath-takingly handsome, dark-haired and strong with a lean, muscular physique. His worn jeans fit snugly against trim hips. The sleeves of his black shirt were rolled up, revealing tanned forearms laced with dark hair, showing he clearly was not afraid of physical labor. His chin-length dark hair was pulled back into a leather tie at the base of his neck.

He held his powerful body absolutely still as his dark eyes raked slowly over her.

Annabelle’s breath disappeared from her lungs. She felt vulnerable and exposed, like a hapless gazelle beneath a lion’s lazy gaze. She felt the restrained hunger of a well-fed predator who had absolute confidence in his power over her.